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Dr. J gives ‘Last Lecture,’ tells students to find their passions as part of OSU-adapted series

Hilary Frew / Lantern photographer

As she paced behind the yellow tablecloth, sipping a Vitamin Water, her jewelry jingled and Javaune Adams-Gaston started the speech as if it were her last.
“The Last Lecture Series”, presented by Mortar Board Senior Class Honor Society, was started at Ohio State to allow faculty members like Adams-Gaston, the vice president of Student Life, to share their knowledge and present what they would say if it were the last lecture they ever gave.
The Mortar Board Senior Class Honor Society is a national honor society aimed at recognizing college seniors for their achievements and providing more opportunities for continued leadership, according to its website.
The idea for “The Last Lecture Series” originally came from Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In September 2007, Pausch gave his own last lecture about achieving childhood dreams. The lecture became a best-selling book, and college campuses across the country copied the idea. Pausch died less than a year after giving his last lecture, according to the book’s official website.
Mortar Board members said they hope this series doesn’t make people think of death but rather the opportunities of life. Adams-Gaston, an honorary Mortar Board member, kicked off the series on Wednesday with a speech about knowing and following passions. She said passion is “the thing that gets you up every day.”
Adams-Gaston said she knew at 13 years old that her passion was to become a psychologist and help people. She briefly covered her career from her time at Iowa State University up to coming to OSU in 2009. Her speech mainly centered on encouraging attendees to find their passions through action and getting out of their comfort zones.
“We cannot live our lives in a passive way,” she said.
Adams-Gaston told The Lantern she had seen a “Last Lecture Series” presentation before and thinks the idea is a great opportunity for the speaker and attendees.
“It really allows you to reflect and think about ‘What is it that I have to offer?'” she said.
Ben Hemmelgarn, president of Mortar Board and a third-year in molecular genetics, said he wanted to bring the series to campus as a way for professors and students to connect over something non-academic.
“We’re surrounded by faculty that teach us so much in their area of expertise, but we don’t really get a good glimpse at the life wisdom that they have,” he said.
Darby O’Donnell, Mortar Board’s major events coordinator and a fourth-year in Arabic and international studies, said the lectures focus on what’s important in life.
“I think it’s more about sharing unconventional wisdom than mathematical formulas or Arabic grammar,” she said. “At the end of the day, that’s not what life is truly about.”
The group came together to discuss possible speakers, and O’Donnell said they aimed high and didn’t have to go past their “Team A.”
She said they were excited for Adams-Gaston to be the first speaker because every student has received an email from her, whether it’s about the Mirror Lake jump or traffic safety..
Adams-Gaston referenced the non-sponsored campus tradition as well as other activities done under the motto “you only live once” during her lecture.
“Living life to the fullest is not the same as living foolishly,” she said.
Adams-Gaston said she hoped the audience gained something from her speech.
“I hope that they begin to live outside of fear and that they are comfortable owning for themselves who they can be and what they can contribute to the world,” she said.
Some students felt the series was beneficial.
“I actually didn’t know a lot about “The Last Lecture Series” before this, but I have to agree after hearing her I think it’s just really great to be able to interact with her,” said Ashley Yassall, a fourth-year in actuarial science and Mortar Board member.
Kelsey Chatman, a fourth-year in human nutrition, said she is a “big fan” of Adams-Gaston and could relate to the topic.
“I felt like it was definitely for me. I mean, I think every college student can relate,” she said.
O’Donnell said she hopes students carry the idea of the series with them.
“Hopefully they’ll leave this lecture and think a little more about what their true values are,” she said. “We hope it doesn’t end at the door.” “The Last Lecture Series” continues with chemistry professor Matthew Stoltzfus on Feb. 26, Linn Dwayne Van Woerkom, associate provost and director of the University Honors and Scholars Center and physics professor on March 26 and Michael Caligiuri, CEO at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center and cancer research professor on April 15.
All lectures are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in Hitchcock Hall 031.

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